A vaccination day in Cox’s Bazar

The World Health Organization is supporting Government-led vaccination efforts in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to protect Rohingya refugees and their host communities against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Dr Ariful Islam in Jamtoli camp, which hosts more than 50,000 Rohingyas. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

A team effort

For Dr Ariful Islam, vaccination day means an early rise.

“I really enjoy organizing vaccination campaigns. On those days, I usually start at 5am. You have to be ready early in the morning when the vaccines arrive, and up until late at night to collect and update data on how many people we have vaccinated. The biggest moment is when you compile and send out the data. That’s when I think: Yes, we did it!”

Dr Chiranjit Das (centre) stands at a meeting point in Jamtoli camp with a local leader, Samsul Alam Ali Ahmad (left), who is holding cool boxes containing Penta vaccines. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

Working with communities

Community members can sometimes be unsure of the benefits of vaccination, which is why Dr Chiranjit Das engages with local leaders, imams, parents, teachers and children.

A young girl waits to receive a vaccination. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

“In Cox’s Bazar, we aim to vaccinate a large number of people, most of whom have had no previous history of immunization back home in Myanmar. That is not easy,” says Dr Das.

“We once visited a community that was particularly resistant to the idea of vaccination. The kids ran away when they saw us. So we started with one child. After giving him the vaccine, we asked him to tell siblings and friends that he is fine and that the others should come and get vaccinated.”

Ampoules of Penta vaccines. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

Dr Das recalls that he managed to vaccinate many more children that day.

“We are working to establish routine immunization for children in the camps — so that all children receive life-saving vaccines given under childhood immunization programme,” he adds.

Lovely Barua during the diphtheria vaccination campaign in Jamtoli camp. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

Reaching adolescent girls

Lovely Barua is one of the 35 women who are part of the 100-strong team of vaccinators working in the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar. Women vaccinators are increasingly being recruited to help gain the trust of families, especially those with young adolescent girls whose vaccination rates are particularly low. Lovely can vaccinate up to 200 children in one day.

“12 to 15-year-old girls are often reluctant to come to the vaccination sites. So I go to them. I try and gather girls from the area in one location to vaccinate them there and give them a bit of privacy,” says Barua.

Using traditional music played through megaphones has proven an effective way to bring children to the vaccination booth. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

The power of music

Many people in the camps cannot read or write, so verbal communication is crucial to spreading the message. WHO, UNICEF and partners teamed up with a local singer and radio station to record a song about vaccinations.

“Using traditional music played through megaphones has proven an effective way to bring children to the vaccination booth,” says Dr Misbah Uddin Ahmed.

Every vaccinated child’s finger is marked with ink that lasts for 3 to 4 days. This helps to avoid duplication and to find children who remain unvaccinated. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

Leaving no stone unturned

For some, like Dr Neeta Pokhrel Regmi, the work doesn’t end here. After the vaccination campaign has officially ended, Dr Neeta and her team go to schools, food distribution points, and door-to-door in communities looking for unvaccinated children.

Dr Neeta Pokhrel Regmi continues to look for unvaccinated children after the campaign has officially ended. © WHO/Mehak Sethi

A vaccination day is a huge effort for everyone involved. Long days spent in the camps often end at midnight to ensure that all the data estimating the reach of the campaign is properly registered.

“I want to make sure that no child is left unvaccinated. Children are very close to my heart, probably because I am also a mother,” says Dr Neeta.

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